Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The 20th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture: Some Aspects of Bahá'í Ethics

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The 20th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture: Some Aspects of Bahá'í Ethics

Article excerpt

I am really overwhelmed and deeply touched by your warm-hearted welcome and introduction. It is an unexpected, great honor to have been chosen by the Association to present the Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude and that of my wife for this invitation.

The material that I am presenting-some aspects of Bahá'í ethics-is taken from the draft of a forthcoming book, Bahá'í Ethics in Light of Scripture.1 A systematic presentation of the new standard of values is, as I feel, not only timely, it is rather a matter of urgency in the face of the increasing disintegration of traditional morality and the truly apocalyptic dimension of spreading immorality all over the world. When choosing my topic for this conference I had to decide between an outline of the new morality which, in the given time frame, could not have been more than a general survey, or some few central issues that can be dealt with more in depth. I chose the latter option, inasmuch as I can refer to my article published in the Bahá'í Studies Review, "The New Morality: An Outline."

Let me start with a few general remarks on ethics: The term derives from the Greek ethikos which pertains to ethos (character). Ethics as part of practical philosophy is also called "moral philosophy,'"2 and, if it is a religious ethics based on revelation (a revelatory ethics like Bahá'í ethics), one can call it "moral theology," as it is termed in Catholicism.

The subject of ethics is the human character and human conduct, so far as they depend on general principles commonly known as moral principles. It is the study of standards of conduct and moral judgment. This field is vast, highly complex, and intricate, as the following groups of issues may indicate, the enumeration of which is by no means exclusive. One group refers to the a priori structures of the moral subject, to the anthropological presumptions and metaphysical objectives. It deals with the image of man: his freedom, moral responsibility, and dignity. The subject is expressed in the question: What is human nature, what is the purpose of life? What is the highest good of human conduct and what are its sanctions?

Another group refers to the central issue of the origin, derivation, and vindication of moral values. In the focus are questions such as: What is the ultimate standard of right or wrong? What is the categorical quality of ethical demands, the unconditioned nature of "ought"? Are there universally recognized values, unconditioned norms, moral principles of good and evil, right and wrong? Where do they come from, how are the recognized, and why should I follow them?

A major part of ethics is dedicated to concrete norms, values, and duties. Ethics tries to find answers to questions such as: What shall I do, how should human beings live in order to become happy? What is virtue; what are the motives which prompt right conduct?

Revelatory ethics raises some additional questions such as the relationship between reason and revelation, the concept of liberty and its relationship to obedience, the concepts of sin and conscience, the virtues and their relation to concrete divine commandments.

My lecture has three parts. Its major part is part 2 in which I will discuss the origin and vindication of moral values in the light of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation. The introductory part I will deal with the centrality of ethics in the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, and the final part, part 3, will conclude the lecture by outlining some features of Bahá'í ethics that conflict with moral positions which are dominant in Western societies.


The Bahá'í Faith is not interested in metaphysical speculations or dogmatic definitions.3 The emphasis is, rather, on moral orientation and education, on right action and right motivation. The main purpose of the divine message is the transformation of the human being. Consequently, ethics is the central theme in Bahá'u'lláh's writings. …

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